Webinar #4 Debrief: Layer 7 Filtering and Why it Matters for K-12

web filter, layer 7, webinar, K-12, firewallStudents getting around the web filter? Have no fear, Duckie 007 is here! In our most recent Webinar, our Principal Sales Engineer explains just what schools needs to prevent students circumventing web filters: Layer 7 filtering. We explicate the importance of Layer 7 Filtering for K-12 by first taking you through its history and the evolution of Firewall (from stateless to stateful) and finishing with tips to help you select the best Layer 7 appliance.

Here’s what we covered in Webinar #4:

  • History of Firewall, 1984 to present
  • Most Common Attack Vectors, what they are and what to watch out for
    • Tor – allows for anonymous communication based on Onion Routing
    • Ultrasurf – leaves no trace of use!
    • VPN – be wary of client software!
  • Selecting a Layer 7 Appliance for K-12
    • Throughput stats & scalability
    • Specializing – cloud vs hardware

See the full video hereWebinars occur at the end of the month and are open to everyone, free of charge.

 

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Our 2000% Growth

securly, school, student, parent, web filter

Since 2014, we’ve had a growth of 2000% in Q1 bookings including 36 months of well over 100% year-over-year growth. These latest numbers set the stage for the realization of the company’s founding vision – which is ubiquitous child safety both at school and at home.

2017 Progress So Far

Q1 2017 growth numbers represented 150% year-over-year growth in bookings and included several marquee customers coming on board Securly’s cloud-based platform which now forms the network substrate of over 5000 schools. Hundreds of these schools have already signed up to be early adopter “partners” of Securly’s first-in-industry parent portal. Securly’s weekly email reports and parent portal are already being consumed by tens of thousands of parents on a weekly basis.  

The People Behind the Progress

To help fulfill our vision, we have attracted a world class sales team with decades of collective experience selling web filtering into K-12 schools. Our team is led by Anders Johnsson – Securly’s VP of Sales. Johnsson brings to Securly nearly 20 years of combined experience co-founding and managing web filter companies in education and leading sales operations teams. It was precisely Securly’s vision of parental involvement in student safety that drew him to Securly, says Johnsson. “Securly’s continued commitment to equipping schools for 1:1 cloud-based web filtering and student safety challenges, has come at just the right time. With increasing complexities of filtering and Digital Citizenship initiatives on the upswing, our parent portal, and student safety features are demonstrating to schools that Securly is the right partner. I am proud to be part of this talented team that is innovating and leading the charge in online student safety.”

 

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The First Anycast DNS, Powered Entirely by Amazon AWS

dns, anycast, internet, server, web filterWe are excited to announce that we are now able to serve our product via Anycast DNS powered entirely by Amazon’s AWS cloud. We are the first in industry to do so.

Our Anycast networking approach contrasts the traditional approach by allowing multiple physically separated web servers on the Internet to share the same IP address. Anycast networking prevents the need for setting up Internet datacenter Points of Presence (POPs) and allows Securly to continue to be 100% cloud-based without the need to lease servers from datacenters and manage both private and public clouds across the globe – a practice previous Anycast DNS players had to pick.

A client’s request is taken to the geographically closest or lowest latency server using core Internet Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) route advertisements. This eliminates the need for CDNs and extends to protocols such as DNS. While CDNs work well for distribution of cached or static web-content, they do not work well with dynamic web content, and simply do not work with other Internet protocols such as DNS.

The availability of Anycast DNS enables Securly to deliver a number of immediate advantages to their global customer base:

  • Simplified deployments: Customers on different clusters no longer have to use different IP addresses.
  • Ability to serve ISPs and access point providers who are location agnostic.
  • Ability to serve mobile users who may travel internationally.
  • Ability to provide fault tolerant uptime even when critical infrastructure fails, by failing over to nearby clusters completely seamless to the customer.

 

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Auditor has arrived – our free tool for bullying and self-harm detection on GMail!

auditor, school, student, safety, email, gmail, detectLast year, we introduced “Auditor by Securly” – a free tool that helps schools ensure the safety of their students by monitoring GMail for messages that are indicative of bullying or self-harm. Today, we are emerging from closed Beta after an extended period with 20 customers in which we scanned 70,000 emails daily for indicators of cyberbullying and self-harm.

Already, Principals and IT Admins are finding Auditor to be a powerful asset to student safety. Tom Walker, Massac Unit School District #1, remarked, “The ability to detect bullying, self harm, or other potential destructive behavior is something we’ve never had before. One Saturday evening, I received an email from the Auditor Safety Bot. The email contained wording about a video being uploaded to YouTube with a suicidal line. Upon further inspection, the video was not uploaded by one of our students, but was from a popular YouTube channel that the student had subscribed to. However, the fact that the Auditor was able to detect it gives us another tool to have in the struggle against bullying and self harm. From a legal perspective, it makes perfect sense that a school district would want the Auditor on their side.”

How Auditor Came to Be

As Google Mail became the chosen tool in thousands of schools across the world, we realized blocking these channels is no longer a productive solution. However, from conversations with our customers, we learned that these resources have opened up new avenues for students to vent negative emotions such as bullying and self-harm.

In general, we found that many schools did not have good solutions in place that address this issue due to the following:

  • By its very definition, “web-filtering” does not apply to emails. A lot of schools that we’ve spoken to use Google’s default compliance options to flag emails that contain a predefined set of keywords. This can be prone to lots of False Positives (False Alarms) and False Negatives (Missed Alerts) and does not scale well in a large District where IT becomes the bottleneck in sorting through these flagged messages.
  • Old school approaches to monitoring these channels involving human auditors are costly.
  • The CIPA law is vague about the need to cover this vector – “The policy proposed must address.. security and safety of minors using chat rooms, email, instant messaging, or any other types of online communications.” However, the meaning of “safety” is left too vague.

Auditor’s Unique Benefits – COMING SOON

Automated sentiment inference approach: While existing tools rely heavily on keyword matching to detect inappropriate behavior (e.g. by looking for words like “suicide” or “ugly”), Auditor will use our tried and tested machine learning techniques. For example, consider the following post that was flagged by our algorithm: “slowly i’m realizing i don’t really have a purpose here say good-bye cause Fryday it’s all over <3” It should be clear to the reader that a keyword-based approach would not have worked in detecting this.

911 Emergency Response Notifications to Parents and Guidance Counselors: We will extend our existing Delegated Administration and Parent Reports functionality from our flagship web-filtering product to Auditor. In the context of Auditor, these services will become 911 Emergency Response notifications to both guidance counselors and parents. Parents, principals and guidance counselors will receive an alert whenever our Auditor detects disturbing emails sent or received.

It’s free? What’s the catch?

No catch! Keeping Auditor free –forever – is our commitment to the pursuit of student safety. Given the lack of any compliance requirement, and cash-strapped schools already reluctant to spend on paid solutions, we felt it necessary to introduce a free tool to address this serious issue.

As with any other company that is trying to build a sustainable business, we need to charge a fee for our services and grow our revenues year over year. However, while achieving this somewhat “practical” goal, we aspire to make a dent in the universe. In our mind, that “dent” has always been (and likely always will be) ubiquitous child safety – both at school and at home.

 

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The first ever proxy-less browser-less DNS-based iPad filtering solution for K-12

securly, filtering, schools, ipad, proxy, filter, device, app

iPads have a prominent place in the K-12 ecosystem. While we often see the higher grades go with Chromebooks as the 1:1 device of choice, lower grades typically go with iPads due to its tactile interface. Educational apps minimize the need to type while fostering learning.

With many schools choosing to send these devices home, both the CIPA law and pressure from the local parent community forces schools to provision their iPads with some form of filtering. Apple’s architectural limitations have thus far allowed only 2 options. Both of these have their own limitations.

Safe browsers: This approach requires uninstalling Safari and installing a specialized browser that filters web traffic. The approach suffers from the following limitations:

  • App traffic is not filtered.
  • Hyperlinks on any webpage tend to use Safari as the default browser.
  • Removing Safari breaks a number of Edu critical apps such as docs and drive.

In other words, Safe Browsers are simply not an option for a school or district trying to ensure that their taxpayer dollars spent on devices will move the needle on student achievement.

Proxy: Apple provides the option to push out a global proxy setting via MDM. This would mean that every byte of data from the iPad would need to be routed through the designated proxy. This approach has the following downsides:

  • Most proxy solutions are hardware appliance based. When the device leaves the network, the traffic is forced back through the appliance which is usually installed on the school’s network. By definition, this requires the school to become a 24/7 ISP for at-home traffic!
  • Even those proxy solutions that are cloud based like Securly’s often see Apps “break” because many cloud based services simply do not like to see their App traffic be proxy-ed. These services need to be constantly exempted from PAC files as the school runs in to them.
  • Many Firewalls tend to block proxy traffic out of the box. To address this, schools often need to maintain a running proxy whitelist on their Firewall.

The holy grail of iPad filtering: Thanks to months of often time frustrating R&D + recent advances in iOS 10, Securly is able to introduce the first proxy-less off-site filtering solution for iPads that is not a safe browser. The solution involves provisioning the iPad with a lightweight DNS setting – as a result of which ~1% of the device’s traffic is selectively proxy-ed. This includes App traffic. Securly is also able to avoid proxy-ing all of the traffic.

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How to Balance Trust and Safety in Digital Monitoring

parents, online, content, trust, safety, teens

Malware, spyware, online predators, phishing, etc. – your child faces these threats each time they log in to their device. The internet can be a devious place, with questionable content tucked into its darker corners.  As parents, you are inclined to install every safety measure possible to protect your children from harm.

Sure, these precautions are imperative for younger, elementary school-aged children. However, as kids become teens – chances are they won’t want you tracking their movements, monitoring their online activity, and/or filtering their content. To them, it is a breach of their privacy and a lack of trust. Perhaps this sentiment is merely a front for content they are trying to hide, but let’s not start off too skeptical. Psychologist Michael Rubino has worked with teens and families for 20 years; he says teenagers often ask, “If they want me to be responsible, how can I be responsible if they do not give me a chance?”

This in turn often leaves parents with the question: How do I walk the line between trusting and monitoring my teen?

It is possible.


In most cases, parents buy their child’s device (smartphone, laptop, etc.) and parents pay for the data service. Thus, it is important to remind your kid that their screentime is a privilege and thus can be taken away. Although this seems rather authoritarian, it is a point often taken for granted.

On a lighter note, the following includes more collaborative practices for establishing trust, while maintaining your child’s safety:

1. Transparency

“Spying” is masked with an incredibly negative connotation that lies in deception and secrecy. Tracking all of your child’s online activity without their knowledge already diminishes the chance of parent-child relationship built on trust.

It is best to tell your child of the x,y, z security measures you have installed to avoid feelings of betrayal, and later retaliation. By being frank with your child, you are establishing an openness intended to be respected/reciprocated. It sends the message: “Hey, I think these security measures are necessary. I can see what you’re doing. I’m giving you the responsibility to make decisions, and I’m holding you accountable for them.”

2. Compromise

48% of parents have read through their teen’s messages, and 61% monitor their browser history. However, this does not encourage an atmosphere of trust. A recent NYT article Should You Spy on Your Kids? claims: “A parent who constantly micromanages a teenager’s life — Why did you stop here? Why did you go there? — risks stifling the independence needed to develop into an adult.”

Please, do allow your child more freedom as they move through elementary school and onto middle and high school – but this does not mean you have to relinquish all responsibilities as the protectorate. Oscar Wilde once said, “With age come wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.” Although a bleak statement, this lends to the more moderate notion: although the transition from child to young adult marks a large jump in maturity, there is still a lot to be learned.

To foster a relationship built on mutual trust, discuss trade-offs. This can be as simple as being “friends” on Facebook or keeping Location Services on, but no reading through messages. When approached correctly, these tools should need not feel intrusive.

3. Talk Boundaries   

First and foremost, teach your children how to properly use technology as with great power, comes great responsibility. Impart digital literacy and digital citizenship practices and make clear what sites should and should not be accessed. Set ground rules and discuss expectations with your young adult as soon as possible: this includes individual screen time limits as well as restrictions on interacting with others on online platforms. In doing their part, parents should also be aware of the current technological climate.

On the other hand, if your teen is sharing a part of their world with you (being friends/sharing updates on social media) show the same respect by being courteous and following online etiquette: do not comment on every post, do not like every photo, etc. Check out this guide “How Parents Should Approach Their Teens on Social Media” for helpful tips to navigating this fairly new type of relationship.

4. Data Usage/Limits

Relative to the other practices, this is quite simple. Parents can set the data plan through their wireless provider to limit their teen’s browsing and app usage. This includes specifications like (1) app access only through Wi-Fi or (2) blocking texts, calls, and browsing during a designated time. These simple implementations limit access to online content (and also saves money), while still giving teens the freedom they crave.

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How to Be a Digitally Aware Parent in 2017

parents, children, screen time, online safety

Kids are trading in swing sets for headsets and see-saws for Slither. There are apps developed specifically for 1-year-olds, and on average, a child receives their first smartphone at the age of 10. It’s 2017 – parents must be cognizant of the virtual playground, just as they looked on while their children scaled the jungle gym.

This constant influx of technology – and at increasingly younger ages – poses a variety of risks for children that range from compromised cybersecurity to impaired cognitive development. However, the best way for parents to ensure online child safety is to be digitally literate and digitally aware themselves. And here’s how:

1. Know the Trends

To understand your child’s device habits, it’s important to know what types of content they are consuming.  For parents who feel that monitoring browser history is too overbearing, this is a less intrusive way to gain insight into what type of material their kids are exposed to. Business Insider surveyed a large group of teens to see what the biggest trends were among young adults this past year.

App Annie regularly reports top download apps and games by category: social networking, kids, entertainment, etc. Google Trends reports top searches and YouTube populates the most viewed videos on their home page.

2. Use Your Resources

The US government has compiled a list of resources centered around cybersafety and cyberbullying prevention. Additionally, there are a variety of tools available that are designed to help parents monitor and protect their children online at all times:

Web filters block inappropriate content, protect from malware, and can detect instances of bullying or self-harm. For full coverage, these apps allow parents to track and regulate their kid’s activity undetected. Google’s My Activity feature compiles watch and search history across all Google Apps, including YouTube. It also tracks devices, where they have been, and what apps you have used; these settings are adjustable. Although controversial, checking your child’s “My Activity” is a free way to follow their digital footprints.

 

3. Engage With Your Child

Younger Children

A recent study focused on how toddlers learn from touchscreens. Researchers observed the difference in a child’s retention and reproduction of a puzzle pattern when the puzzle-assembly tutorial was (1) demonstrated by a “ghost demonstration” on a tablet and (2) performed by an adult sitting next to them. The results: “The 2- and 3-year-olds who saw the ghost demonstration had a hard time replicating the task — but did well after they saw the human hand. Researchers concluded that having a human guide — often referred to as having social scaffolding — helped these young children learn.”

Young Adults

Reassign the hours usually devoted to scrolling through social media apps or online shopping in for a “device-free”, family activity time: start a project with your children, decide upon a book to read together, or introduce a regular time to catch-up and talk about your day. Being attuned to your child’s behavior on-and-off screen is an integral part of keeping them safe. Many young adults fall victim to cyberbullying and serious consequences may ensue. However, many teens do not reach out for help;. Spotting the signs early through shifts in your child’s behavior can prevent the devastating consequences, and ensure they are receiving the proper support they need.

Signs your child may be experiencing cyberbullying:

  • Becomes withdrawn
  • Suddenly stops using the computer
  • Loses interests in hobbies once enjoyed
  • Stops using computer or dims the screen when someone is nearby
  • More can be found here

4. Connect with Other Parents

Many parents have the same concerns when it comes to privacy and internet safety. CommonSense Media, a non-profit that works to promote safe technology usage, has created a trusted forum for parents to voice their concerns. Parents can both “Ask an Expert” and receive guidance from other parents. The forum is segmented by age group.

parents, children, screen time, safety

 

5. Set Guidelines for both Parents and Kids

In 2016, parents spent a daily average of 9 hours and 22 minutes interacting with some sort of screen media. About 8 of these hours were devoted to recreational use. To effectively set screen time boundaries for children, parents must lead by example and consciously make an effort to forgo picking up their device.  Set “no-phone zones”, schedule outdoor activity time, and impose daily screen time limits. Also, make sure that children do not use their device directly before bedtime; studies have shown that this disrupts sleep patterns and can lead to poor academic performance.

It’s especially important to limit screen time during early stages of development. Check out these new guidelines for screen time exposure by age group, abridged from an American Academy of Pediatrics report.

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How to Use Technology to #EndCyberbullying

cyberbullying, students, school, technology

Bullying is not a new phenomenon, but the recent proliferation of social media harassment merits its own name. Cyberbullying is unique in that aggressors can be safely situated behind a screen in their own homes, while victims are subject to its effects at school, at home, and everywhere in between. It is pervasive and relentless, as what is posted online can resurface anytime.

Although cyberbullying is a direct result of increased device usage, we can use technology to our advantage to prevent, detect, and act against cyberbullying.

Prevent

Common Sense Media introduced Common Sense Education’s K-12 Digital Citizenship Curriculum to help educators and school administrators teach proper online behavior, digital citizenship best practices, and educate students on the consequences of cyberbullying. The curriculum includes eight modules ranging from Privacy & Security to Cyberbullying & Digital Drama to Self-Image & Identity.

They have created engaging online student interactive games – “digital games to tackle real-world dilemmas” – for grades 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12 to instill good technology habits. This toolkit is free and available to everyone online via Downloadable PDFs, Nearpod, and iBooks.

ReThink Words, created by student Trisha Prabhu, is a patent-pending software that 1) uses context-sensitive filtering technology to determine if a post may be harmful and 2) asks the user to reconsider posting the potentially damaging message. Research shows that 93% of the time, students do not follow through with the post after being asked to ReThink.

Detect

Our own sentiment-analysis based technology – Auditor by Securly uses Natural Language Processing & Artificial Intelligence algorithms to detect any signs of harassment or self-harm in Gmail. Through Delegated Administration, we then directly alert school guidance counselors and principals of suspicious student online activity. Parents are notified ASAP with email reports and through the Parent Portal.

This technology serves a dual-purpose: eliminating bullying and intervening in self-harm/suicide cases. The two facets are related by a causal relationship termed “Cyberbullicide” by the American Public Health Association. Mark Nelson, IT Admin of Romeo Community Schools, remarks, “Of the many features distinguish Securly, none are so important as Sentiment Analysis.  We have contacted school counselors four times to make them aware of alarming posts by teenagers, so they could intervene with students and parents.  The avoidance of a single tragedy with one of our students makes Sentiment Analysis invaluable.”

Act

Using STOPit!, students can anonymously report cyberbullying in real-time – empowering them to stand up for themselves and their peers. Students can send photos, videos, or screenshots as evidence of cyberbullying through two-way anonymous messaging to school administration. The app also includes access to a 24-hour crisis center.

In India, a new anti-cyberbullying initiative revolves around a single hashtag: #IamTrolledHelp. This policy allows victims of cyberbullying to use this hashtag or send an email reporting cases of online harassment; the government then investigates each case. The Minister of Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi, started this new protocol in response to the climbing cyberbullying rates aimed at women and children. For example, singer Chinmayi Sripaada was bombarded with threats of rape and violence – her case led to India’s first arrests for cyberbullying.

U.S.-based Taruna Aswani used Facebook to out her international blackmailer, publicly posting screenshots of emails she received that threatened to leak nudes and intimate content if she did not perform sexual acts for him. She is now working with the cyber crime deputy commissioner to track down the hacker, and has received hundreds of messages from other girls thanking her for inspiring them to speak out against their bullies.

Get involved during National Cyberbullying Prevention Month and join the movement to #EndBullying today! To find out more information on bullying prevention, check out the following resources:

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The 4 Main Types of Cyberbullying Across the Country

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16% of kids have cyberbullied their peer(s), reports a recent Cyberbullying Research Center study. More often than not, these bullies are motivated by their own anger and frustration. Technology provides refuge and anonymity for such behavior, empowering kids to do and say things they would otherwise not do in person.

From our analysis of 500K social media posts, we found that the majority of aggressive online posts could be broken into the four main categories listed below in order from most frequent to least frequent:

1. Namecalling/Harassment

  • “you’re a f***ing rat close yo mouth and your legs no disrespect tho.”
  • “yea you should hate yourself. as you f***ing should stupid hoe.”

2. Relationship Drama

  • “funny af how you talk s**t about my best friend right in front of me making it seem like yall wanna talk to me… there’s no need for yall to be talking s**t behind her back.  claiming that you ain’t fake and s**t.. bitch f***ing please. you f***ing snake.”
  • “@—— you can go f**k yourself and leave @—— alone…you obviously are jealous. she’s much nicer and better than your lying fake a**.”
  • “@—— stupid mother f***ing dumb a** b***h why don’t you just go have sex with some girls since you’re “famous”

3. Body Image/Looks

  • “if you’re a whore or look like one and you end up showing your slutty-ness and it winds up on my timeline…i will call you a whore and then unfriend you. with no regrets”
  • “she looks like a f***ing jew to me”

4. Threats

  • “fools gonna get beat today. i tried to warn people about lying, they just don’t want to believe me. ha. don’t f**k around with me…”

We also found that certain characteristics differ geographically across the US: students on the East Coast seem to be far more aggressive and confrontational on social media. Namecalling/Harassment posts occur about 14% more on the East Coast than on the West Coast.

Although the reason for this is unclear, it may be due to the lack of a national cyberbullying law. No federal law directly addresses bullying; legislation was introduced in 2009, but no action has been taken since. However, the Children’s Internet Protection Act (2000) requires schools to 1) monitor their students’ online behavior and 2) outline a plan to educate students on proper online behavior. Thus, each state has created their own laws and preventative measures to discourage bullying and online harassment.

Cyberbullying Laws Across the Country

The majority of West Coast states include cyberbullying in their bullying laws, while many East Coast and Midwest states do not. Georgia, Kentucky, and Nebraska have proposed including cyberbullying measures in their current policies.

State bullying laws, updated January 2016

Includes “cyberbullying” Does not include “cyberbullying”
Arkansas

California

Connecticut

Florida

Hawaii

Illinois

Kansas

Louisiana

Maine

Massachusetts

Michigan

Minnesota

Missouri

Nevada

New Hampshire

New Mexico

New York

North Carolina

Oregon

Rhode Island

Tennessee

Utah

Virginia

Washington

Alabama

Alaska

Arizona

Colorado

Delaware

Idaho

Indiana

Iowa

Maryland

Mississippi

Montana

New Jersey

North Dakota

Ohio

Oklahoma

Pennsylvania

South Carolina

South Dakota

Texas

Vermont

West Virginia

Wisconsin

Wyoming

For more information on cyberbullying laws across the country, the Cyberbullying Research Center released a brief review which compares bullying laws by state.  A more comprehensive explanation of each state’s policy can be found on stopbullying.gov.

 

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Crying Out for Help in 140 Characters or Less

 “If I die tonight, would anyone cry?”  Amber Cornwell published this post soon before committing suicide in December of 2014.

Social media is the modern-day soliloquy; kids are now more likely to lament emotional distress or seek help via online platforms. Through Machine Learning techniques, we found that Twitter was the overwhelming favorite for kids to vent emotions: 71% of flagged activity* are tweets. However, it is through these same platforms that cyberbullying occurs.

30% of flagged posts* are direct forms of cyberbullying. Interestingly, ⅓ of all students have experienced some type of online harassment.  Teens exposed to cyberbullying are 2.4 times more likely to entertain suicidal notions. Certainty of this causal relationship is demonstrated by terms like “cyberbullicide”, as used in an American Public Health Association study.

Social media interactions can provide a look into a teen’s life, yet red flags are largely ignored due to the casual nature of online culture. Mean comments and threats are posted online all the time; this problem has proliferated into a cyberbullying epidemic, one that large social media platforms are struggling to mitigate. Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter, admitted, “We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years.”

 

Common Sense Media’s “5 Ways to Stop Cyberbullies”. Although this is a great guide for handling cyberbullying, there is a larger issue that still needs to be solved.

 

Amber was a victim of cyberbullying. So was Thomas Mullaney, and many others who decided to take their own life as a result. To reduce teen suicide and depression, we must eliminate a major root cause: bullying.

This month is National Bullying Prevention Month, a movement to stop bullying and cyberbullying once and for all. To learn more about how to get involved in with your local community’s bullying prevention initiatives, click here.

*Of 500,000 social media posts, 1 in 50 posts were flagged for suspicious behavior related to drugs, profanity, cyberbullying, threats, depression, or suicide.

 

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